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ArticleFestival Relectures

Document / Emmanuel Adely

In the margins of RELECTURES 15...

On Sunday, October 5 at the Musée Commun, to close the festival RELECTURES 15, Emmanuel Adely, accompanied by the musician David Haddad, offers us a full reading of his latest book—whose title must be quoted in full and read in one breath: La très bouleversante confession de l’homme qui a abattu le plus grand fils de pute que la Terre ait porté (The very upsetting confession of the man who killed the biggest son of a bitch the Earth has ever known). A way to do justice to the profoundly oral dimension of this text, which calls for scansion the way ancient epics did. A kinship of form that was revealed by Arno Bertina in an article which originally appeared in La Nouvelle Quinzaine littéraire, and that he has allowed us to republish here.

Such a fragile virility

Without going back to his very first book, published by les Editions de Minuit in 1993, it is interesting to read and situate La très bouleversante confession… (1) in the perspective of the two books that preceded it: Cinq suites pour violence sexuelle (Argol, 2008) and Sommes (Argol, 2009). These three books are a body, they posit an epidermic report on politics and current events by asserting (by act) the capacity of literature to respond to serious currents news issues. Only recently, we criticized French television series, and even films, for not being able to (re)consider burning news events the way the Americans managed to do, who-do-everything-better-than-us-in-any-event-comma-even-serial-killers. Without seeing that what we were seeking from television or cinema, is in fact to be found in literature, which is always one step ahead (whether it be Bolivian, American, Polish, or Vietnamese).

And if it is ahead, it is clearly not by proposing yet another treatment à la Balzac of this reality. Emmanuel Adely utilizes literary forms to the point of deboning them (in this case, the account of a Navy Seal participating in the operation that led an American commando to kill Oussama Ben Laden in 2011), directly palpating the language of these forms (here five speeches by Nicolas Sarkozy). To a political discourse that pretends to speak the truth—at the price of violence and twists imposed on language—Emmanuel Adely, provoked on his own terrain one could say, responds by another discourse, by giving voice to the implicit in these texts, or their base line. He responds quickly, turning away from one traditional force of artistic creation in order to attain another. These three books by Adely, if they are not untimely, are very definitely impertinent. Immediately so. As if it were a matter of not allowing the cliches or stereotypes of the times to become History. And this, not by writing the language of the victims, or from the point of view of the vanquished, but the language of the conquerors-in-so-far-as-they-are-also-dominated. La très bouleversante confession…follows in the lines of Catch 22—that fantastic novel, both cult and rarely quoted—which shows the fear of death that overtakes an American squadron bombarding Italy in 1943, through a brilliant reversal that shows the killer—whether or not his war is a just one—frightened of death or by its lethal power.

The fact that the outcome of this operation is known by the reader does not remove curiosity, stress and a certain suspense that will doubtless always remain active. But once the arc of the story is identified, once we have understood, two things become apparent to the reader: the apparent versification of the text (which is not as much a traditional working of verse as a means of highlighting the value of a rhythmic cut, and also perhaps, on a metaphoric level, to indicate the abysmal emptiness that assaults and devours the story of the Navy Seal) and the hyper-sexualization of the account (in that systematically vulgar style that accosts the ear starting with the title—excellent—and is like a wire suspended between the first and last pages, both a sign of a colossal stress and an ailing virility).

Because this sexualization of discourse is brought to the boil here through the perspective of killing and the presence of weapons, and even more the haunting return of the obsession. Sexual fantasizing or the sexualization of everything becomes here the metronome of phrasing. This conjunction of two erotic stimuli and a clearly marked cadence (via this near versification and the haunting repetitions) is evocative of Guyotat’s Tombeau pour 500,000 soldats, or Héros, the fiction by Denis Jampen that éditions MF is about to publish, forty years after it was written. But Emmanuel Adely markedly shifts things—to the point of creating something else: there where with Guyotat writing feeds phantasm, Adely’s text is on the contrary supported, by a disgust, a nausea that only a sort of humor still manages to cover.

This disgust feeds a legitimate anger against this completely mad ‘virilization’ of the fact of killing, to think in terms of the enemy and to have one’s thoughts be a fixation of the enemy. But between the beginning and the end of this short book, the reader’s disgust has the time to mutate and it becomes possible to read Emmanuel Adely’s text as a satire of this relationship to the world: there is no serenity in the soldier’s proposal, nor in the choice of his words. The poverty of his vocabulary is not the subject, his anguish is. He feels the need to stabilize his vision of the world at every moment, the hold he has on it, because they are manifestly not firm. Clever and pertinent, the book designates something (lethal virility) and its opposite (this so fragile virility), asserting that in our times the masculine—thank God—is no longer defined so much by the ability to kill. All the debates on the genre over the last thirty years have served the masculine well in this sense, except in the United States, unfortunately, where the open sale of weapons feeds this phantasm and evaluates virility in terms of the power to kill.

Yet this book which plays extensively with all the signs of America is not an anti-American manifesto. It simply opposes a doctrine of hysteria, that sexually names everything that frightens it and models desire from these frightening or upsetting objects. La très bouleversante confession… disagrees and invites the reader to imagine what would be a counter-history of literature, in other words a history that would offer itself as prism not of the hero, but of the non-virile hero, the man who, without necessarily troubling the genre, would not feel the need to define his virility in terms of the warrior. One of the least well known scenes of the Iliad and the Odyssey—because it is not to be found in them, but in Apollodore—shows us Ulysses inventing a sketch so that he will believed to be crazy and Agamemnon’s emissary won’t ask him to follow him to burn Troy. Ulysses, who Homer presents as the great and wily warrior, one of the three great heroes of Greece, Ulysses in fact doesn’t care whether or not he is armed. (Whereas it is Homer’s version, which has been handed down for posterity—that of a hero who draws his legitimacy from war, from the death of the Other, or his enslavement.)

Neither manifestos or pamphlets, these books (and Sommes, published in October 2009, which evokes the Rio-Paris flight that crashed in the ocean in June 2009) are powerful literary works that do not reduce the outside to a discourse but on the contrary attempt to reintroduce movement and complexity into the images we are presented with. There is something here of Reznikoff or Peter Weiss, which, combining with a sort of epic breath (we didn’t mention Ulysses without a reason), allows a polyphonic dimension. Inventing a minute of inner voice for each passenger on the Air-France flight; giving voice to the unsaid in a speech that hoped to lock down meaning, and to reveal a fragility or worry there where precisely only force and assurance are spoken of… all of this is part of a dialogical, polyphonic and refined approach. Adely is not the only person to lend attention to the nuances of speech, this capacity to hear the disgusting in words that have become ordinary. Authors such as Jean-Charles Massera and Emmanuel Pireyre, to only mention two, use a very similar approach—even though their objects are perhaps less spectacular, they are no less political. What these authors have in common is to not (or no longer) write novels and, as if it were a consequence, all three treat with attentiveness the question of the performance (or even the simple public reading). Their efficiency comes from there: from their capacity to disturb any monodic reading that supposes a single reality (2) and, by a tested science of rhythm, to reveal another side of experience, others scansions and voices. This brings us closer to all the energy that literature can produce, and the feeling of being, with it, fully in the presence of something.

Arno Bertina

La très bouleversante confession de l’homme qui a abattu le plus grand fils de pute que la terre ait porté, by Emmanuel Adely, éditions Inculte, January 2014.

Source : La Nouvelle Quinzaine littéraire n°1100 March 1-15, 2014


(1) For ethical reasons I believe I should specify that the éditions Inculte (Jérôme Schmidt and Alexandre Civico) publish their books without consulting the collective that I am a member of. I am therefore merely a reader of Emmanuel Adely and am in no way his editor.
(2) “By central insufficiency of the soul,” Artaud said.